How Patriarchy Shows up in Spirituality

How Patriarchy Shows up in Spirituality

How Patriarchy Shows up in Spirituality

Te big claim that a lot of spiritual people make is that it’s teaching them to unlearn their societal programming and question everything, but many of them fail to notice the ways that societal programming is simply being recycled and sold back to them disguised as spirituality.

One of the areas where this is rampant is in the realm of spirituality where people are talking about the divine masculine and divine feminine, teaching tantra and sexual polarity, or facilitating gender-based healing and personal development workshops.

I’ve done a whole post previously explaining that the “divine masculine” and “divine feminine” are not gender-specific, but rather, archetypal energies that exist within all of us.

Problematic spiritual dating and relationship coaches, neotantra teachers, and spiritual influencers/healers who use their teachings to promote the concept that the ideal woman should be submissive or adhere to any of the traditional societal definitions of femininity are complicit in perpetuating patriarchal oppression. Full stop.

You’ve seen them: the people who tell you that masculine men don’t want masculine women, that you need to embody more feminine qualities if you want to attract a high-value masculine man, or that a woman who wants a masculine man should always “let him lead.” What’s really happening here is that toxic masculinity is being put on a pedestal and instead of asking women to question their societal programming and figure out why they are attracted to that in the first place, it’s simply reinforcing the same patriarchal conditioning.

Some of the most guilty parties of engaging in and upholding patriarchy and misogyny are women themselves. Many of these influencers constantly talk about the Divine Feminine as though it’s explicitly connected to women, which is false. They also idealize only the culturally accepted aspects of the feminine: softness, nurturing, beauty, and birth. Rarely do they champion the full depth of the feminine archetype, which also includes rage, destruction, raw sexuality, and death itself. They’ve taken the Goddess in us all and stripped her of her real power, leaving only that which is desirable to men who want to dominate and control. This is the toxic masculine energy, which means the submissive feminine is a toxic feminine energy.

You also have the white feminist boss girls of hustle culture who shit on other women for being that half of the archetype–stay-at-home moms doing traditionally “female” things. They are also participating in patriarchal oppression because patriarchal oppression is not just about oppressing female bodies, it’s also about oppressing the archetypal feminine in everyone, including men and women and trans people and nonbinary people. Additionally, those people are also embodying the patriarchal belief that one’s inherent value is equated with one’s status, which is how men have been pigeon-holed by patriarchy.

Many women are still engulfed in patriarchal ideology. Some of them have tried to label it feminism. First wave feminism sought to make women equal to men by “elevating” them to this same toxic standard instead of dismantling their internalized patriarchy, and upheld both toxic masculinity and capitalistic wealth inequality in the process.

Girl boss feminism is just patriarchy and capitalism in a pantsuit.

Another big rally cry of girl boss feminism–and of the “spiritual” business coach– is “women shouldn’t tear one another down.” “Women support women” is another variant of this, which often masks deeper problematic belief constructs. Women who are using this phrase are frequently confusing manufactured jealousy with with intellectual discourse. Anyone using “women don’t tear each other down,” to avoid due criticism from other women, especially if and when the ideas they are perpetuating are mired in patriarchy, transphobia, or racism, is just perpetuating existing systems of oppression rather than helping to tear them down.

The real source of this concept is “pick me” behaviors and it has nothing to do with social discourse and everything to do with vying for male attention.

pick me is a woman that is willing to do anything for male approval. She will embarrass or throw other women under the bus to achieve this goal.

In modern feminism, this is most often identified as women who tear other women down by calling them sluts, bimbos, or otherwise attacking their character to prove themselves as more desirable as a potential partner, but pick-me behaviors extend beyond purity culture into the sex positive movement as well. A pick-me behavior may manifest as “Pick me. I’m pure,” or “Pick me because I’m your sexual fantasy,” depending on the type of validation one is attempting to attract and how women have been taught to engage in people-pleasing and fawning as a means of earning love and/or attention if we learned that attention was the only way to feel loved.

You’ll often see these two types opposing each other and tearing one another down. That’s what’s meant by “patriarchy pits women against each other.” This phrase is often co-opted by girl boss feminists who are engaging in other behaviors also rooted in toxic masculinity, such as using sex as a means of status and validation.

The bottom line is: not every woman should be celebrated.

History is full of women who aided and abetted racists, misogynists, homophobes, etc. Women are just as capable of engaging in toxic behavior and spreading toxic ideas as men. We need to be able to have constructive critical conversations among ourselves about what benefits us as a group and what does not, and that sometimes requires us to call out other women for their problematic ideas and actions. Attempting to shut down that discourse with “women don’t tear down other women” is a control mechanism that enables patriarchy and its brethren, capitalism and racism, to continue unchallenged.

The Psychology Behind “Pick Me”

This “pick-me-ism” is precisely what those dating coaches and tantra teachers I mentioned above are perpetuating when they tell women that they need to be submissive to be desirable. They are also reinforcing gender roles and stereotypes which are tools of oppression because they create expectations that for people to be valid, they must fit the mold.

Anyone–female, woman-identifying or not–who engages in “pick me” behaviors, whether they be based in purity culture or using sex appeal as a means of validation and control are also acting from patriarchal conditioning. Most of this comes from having cold, critical, or authoritarian parents–the same behaviors that create narcissists and covert narcissists. This is just how covert narcissism shows up as people-pleasing and fawning in women due to patriarchal constructs and gender roles.

Learn more about narcissism.

Patriarchy and it’s rigid constructs inflict wounds on both men and women by forcing them to be a certain way–the way society says men and women should be–and causes them to suppress aspects of themselves. Patriarchy asks men to dissociate from their feminine essence: their emotions. Their ability to nurture and care both for themselves and others. Instead, patriarchy tells men that they must be successful to be of value and this is associated with their ability to be providers of a physical nature. This often results in men believing they need to work long hours to give their families food and shelter, and leaves an emotional hole of absenteeism and abandonment with their children. This is the father wound.

Learn more about how patriarchy affects men.

As for women, they are expected to sacrifice their own needs and desires to cater to literally everyone but themselves: their children, their husbands, and society at large. They are taught that their value lies in the approval of others and their ability to make those people happy. This leaves a wound of resentment and self-abandonment: the mother wound.

Learn more about the mother wound.

This conditioning is still experienced by members of the LGBTQ community, but places them in an even more precarious position because they often deviate even further from the prescribed gender roles due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. For cisgendered, heteronormative people, it leaves women jockeying against each other to vie for the attentions of the most successful males and breeds codependent relationships where women have little financial autonomy or independence from their male counterparts.

For women, disengaging from pick-me behaviors, whether they be based in purity culture or a need for validation via sexuality, hinges on self-awareness and healing trauma that revolves around codependency, people-pleasing and fawning. If you don’t know your authentic self and sense of worth as a human being, you will continue to mold yourself into whatever you think other people want, whether that’s a sultry vixen or wholesome and virginal. The reality is that you are both and this is a binary construct. A split identity created by patriarchy. The Madonna and the Whore.

The way forward with all of this is obviously making society safe and accepting of archetypal femininity in all of its forms–the return of the Divine Feminine– which is what modern feminism is supposed to try to do, but as I mentioned before, many women (and men) who wear the feminist label still inhabit patriarchal constructs around gender identity and expression of femininity–which means patriarchal ideas aren’t being dismantled, they’re just hiding under labels that make you believe they are.

For example, I’ve seen more than one spiritual coach out there clinging to the title of Divine Feminine and feminist while simultaneously advertising being a sexual submissive as part of a BDSM lifestyle–and they believe that giving their male partner total control over them is somehow tied to the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine because they saw some tantra teacher tell them that the feminine is submissive and the masculine is supposed to lead them.

This is a grossly misunderstood interpretation of tantric teachings filtered through patriarchal gender roles, power imbalances, and traumatized sexuality.

In the context of sexual polarity, anyone fully embodying the entirety of their feminine archetype does not submit to demands for dominance and control. The true Divine Feminine is that which cannot be controlled. Feminine energy does not submit to someone who demands obedience, it only willingly releases control to an energy of integrity, trust, and safety, which by its very nature never demands submission.

Patriarchy infantilizes women by making them dependent on men for survival. It treats women as another child to be provided for, instead of a sovereign being. A transaction where a woman gives up her sovereignty and engages in fawning for the sake of safety and being cared for. That’s trauma. The real Divine Masculine creates a structured container for the feminine to exist in her full power, not take it away. It doesn’t involve infantilization and calling anyone daddy. It involves being respected and worshipped like the mature goddess she is.

The above example is a sexualized patriarchal fantasy, and it’s the antithesis of the fully embodied, balanced Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.

[Disclaimer: I’m not saying that two healthy, consenting partners who want to explore these dynamics are out of balance. I am saying that those who consider it a lifestyle and can’t or won’t live without it are, and it’s most likely due to unhealed trauma.]

Learn what it really means to balance masculine and feminine energies.

To truly dismantle patriarchy, not only do we have to make all healthy expressions of femininity safe for everyone, we also have to be willing to examine where our current expressions of femininity are based in patriarchal programming, just like the example I gave above. That involves healing the mother and father wounds we all have as a result of living in a patriarchal society.

This means that people in spiritual circles also have to realize how they have misunderstood the concepts of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine and filtered them through their own patriarchal understandings, as well as their own childhood trauma.

Xo,

Ash

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Do Your Negative Thoughts Manifest Disease?

Do Your Negative Thoughts Manifest Disease?

Do Your Negative Thoughts Manifest Disease?

Question from a reader:

“I have a fear that I may have cancer. I’m just 19 years old and I eat well and healthy. This thought comes at random times and I’m afraid that I may manifest this crazy thought. But sometimes I shrug it off easily. I’m really confused since I don’t know how to stop these thoughts and be free of this.”

The widespread popularity of law of attraction, and misinformed understandings of it, are responsible for a whole lot of fear-inducing questions like this from spiritual beginners who are terrified of manifesting into existence their darkest thoughts, however fleeting.

We all have crazy, weird, fearful thoughts from time to time. That doesn’t mean you’re going to literally manifest it. Manifestation doesn’t really work that way.

It’s not necessarily your thoughts that manifest, it’s the beliefs and emotions behind them which are put into physical action. People who have a disease don’t manifest the disease because they’re walking around thinking about having it. In many cases, that person never thought about having the disease at all.

Stories like this one floating around don’t help matters:

“In 1982 I died from terminal cancer. The condition I had was inoperable, and any kind of chemotherapy they could give me would just have made me more of a vegetable. I was given six to eight months to live. I had been an information freak in the 1970’s, and I had become increasingly despondent over the nuclear crisis, the ecology crisis, and so forth. So, since I did not have a spiritual basis, I began to believe that nature had made a mistake, and that we were probably a cancerous organism on the planet. I saw no way that we could get out from all the problems we had created for ourselves and the planet. I perceived all humans as cancer, and that is what I got. That is what killed me. Be careful what your world view is. It can feed back on you, especially if it is a negative world view. I had a seriously negative one. That is what led me into my death.” – Mellen Thomas Benedict

We have to understand that these sorts of things are created by emotional blockages (trauma) in the chakras associated with those parts of the body and it typically takes years of emotional repression to create them. So let’s talk about the nuance behind this.

Will negative thoughts manifest as disease?

It’s accepted that trauma results in mental health issues and like PTSD, complex PTSD (C-PTSD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and other mental illnesses, anger management issues, codependency, and a wide variety of other behavioral problems. It has only relatively recently been realized, however, that childhood trauma also greatly affects the development of the brain itself, resulting in additional problems like memory loss, learning disabilities, attention deficits, and more. We are also discovering how this affects the nervous system and, subsequently, the rest of the physical body.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs) conducted by the CDC and other research has found that more than 60% of adults have experienced childhood trauma, and that childhood trauma is highly correlated with a statistically significant decrease in life expectancy, a higher rate of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, liver disease, COPD, autoimmune deficiency, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and other chronic illnesses. 

Learn more about the ACEs Study.

In some of these instances, the disease is directly related to trauma responses. The constant stress placed on the body by a dysregulated nervous system creates a chain reaction, affecting organs and even muscle tissues, resulting in muscle tension, anxiety, upset stomach, digestion issues, headaches, fatigue, and many other symptoms that have long been known to be affected or caused by stress. It’s now becoming evident that there is a link between that stress and changes in the brain caused by trauma.

In other instances, existing disease or genetic predisposition for disease is further exacerbated by external unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance addictions, risky behaviors, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices that are the result of coping mechanisms for traumatic stress.

It’s been known for years that stress is either the direct cause of or greatly impacts 90% of diseases. Now it’s becoming apparent that much of that stress is rooted in childhood trauma, and then compounded by the pressures of the society we live in (which was created from that same trauma…).

Just like all of the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of trauma listed above, negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself are a symptom of trauma. This does not mean your negative thoughts create disease. It means your unhealed trauma creates both negative thoughts and disease.

What does this mean for spiritual practitioners and healers?

As practitioners and healers, we should never tell someone that their negative thoughts will create disease or that their disease is the result of negative thinking, because in most cases, especially with trauma, those negative thoughts are compulsory. Because of trauma’s effect on the brain, it is difficult for the individual to simply shift the way they think.

Trauma blocks in the chakras result in the physical body being frozen in a trauma response (fight/flight/freeze/fawn). This means that the traumatized person rarely, if ever, feels safe. When the brain perceives danger, the part of the brain responsible for thinking and rationality is completely shut down, and the person goes into an autopilot survival mode. They aren’t able to think rationally. Because of this, the brain cannot process a shift the negative thoughts until the trauma energy (chakra blockages) in the body is released and the body returns to a sense of safety.

Scaring the shit out of someone by telling them they will develop cancer if they don’t start thinking positively will actually engage their trauma response, not heal it.

So no, my friends. Positive thinking alone will not heal you. Like I said above, the brain can’t fully process a shift in awareness or perspective while the body is still in a a dysregulated state.

Learn about toxic positivity and how it can be harmful to potential clients. 

A holistic approach that addresses the underlying cause (trauma trapped in the body), while also treating the symptoms via examining self-awareness and self esteem, and also engaging in physical self-care routines such as eating a healthy diet and engaging in physical movement is what is necessary! And I won’t rule out the limited use of anti-depressants, either, so long as it’s understood that they are meant to help manage the emotional symptoms of trauma while you actively work toward healing, not as a magic pill to erase negative emotions while while someone continues to engage in the same toxic coping mechanisms that’s perpetuating their trauma in the first place.

Trauma Healing Isn’t One Size Fits All

Healing from trauma is different for everyone and it can take longer for some people than others, so we’re all allowed to move at our own pace. In fact, it’s imperative that we’re allowed to be as in control of that process as necessary to feel safe.

That isn’t a cookie cutter approach, and this is where a lot of holistic and spiritual healers and coaches come under intense (and valid) scrutiny. For example:

Some people’s trauma results in eating disorders. Orthorexia is an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way. When eating healthy becomes obsessive, including that as part of a trauma treatement can actually have harmful results. You have to know how to screen people for tangential issues so you can understand the full context of what you’re working with.

For that person, destigmatizing regular food is going to be a really important part of healing. You have to strip away all fo the beliefs that they’ve created around what food is healthy and understand how and where they are equating food with self esteem.

This is why a lot of holistic healers and coaches catch flack for attempting to systemize a healing process or presenting a single modality as the cure for everything. What works for one person will never work for everyone. There is always nuance involved.

A holistic approach will incorporate ways to release trauma from the nervous system–especially focusing on the root chakra, which is our center for feelings of safety– while simultaneously holding space for that person to process what’s being released.

There are many therapeutic approaches to releasing trauma from the body/nervous system, including but not limited to:

  • massage
  • reiki
  • somatic therapy
  • acupuncture
  • yoga
  • sound baths

For more information about how childhood trauma impacts the chakra system–and how to go about healing it–I highly recommend check out Eastern Body, Western Mind, by Anodea Judith.

Xo,

Ash

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Disembodied Spirituality: Is it Really Zen or is it Dissociation?

Disembodied Spirituality: Is it Really Zen or is it Dissociation?

Disembodied Spirituality: Is it Really Zen or is it Dissociation?

One of the quickest ways to identify a toxic spiritual teacher (or follower) is by how emotionally detached they are in the way they talk about the human experience.

Many of them will discuss pain and trauma as ideas and concepts, but without any real compassion behind their words.

This is because their coping mechanism for dealing with their own trauma is complete emotional dissociation.

Emotional dissociation is a disconnection from one’s own feelings and it’s a coping mechanism for pain. Sometimes when the nervous system becomes overloaded from stress, your brain detaches from emotion so that your body can continue function.

Some people have dissociative episodes when they experience acute trauma, and some people live in a permanently dissociated or emotionally numb state due to complex trauma during an abusive childhood.

I was one of those people until I was about 32. My approach to spirituality was through a lens of pure logic and total emotional detachment. I never considered how disembodied many spiritual teachings were because I, myself, was completely disembodied.

And that’s effectively what these spiritual teachers tell their followers to do: dissociate from the human experience, shun negative emotions, only experience life from your upper chakras.

They’ll heavily emphasize the mind and perception and higher awareness and never talk about emotions or what it means to feel… because they don’t know what it means to feel.

They spread toxic spirituality devoid of real compassion because they have an inherent lack of empathy. You can’t imagine how another person’s pain feels if you don’t allow yourself to feel your own pain.

They can’t teach you about healing trauma or embodiment because they haven’t healed their trauma or learned to embody the fullness of their emotional being. They just live in their heads. They invalidate the feelings of trauma survivors because they invalidate themselves.

They can’t teach you the tools you need to navigate the human experience because they’ve tapped out of theirs. They can only teach you how to dissociate, the same way they have.

Disembodied wisdom leads one to only know life as a concept and not a reality. Which goes a long way to explain why they all think the world around them is an illusion.

Spirituality and holistic wellness is supposed to be about the mind, body, and spirit, but a lot of toxic, ungrounded spirituality completely ignores the entire body part and only focuses on the mind or the spirit.

Beware of any teachings that consistently pitch you any form of the following, as it is and indicator of being ungrounded and disembodied:

  • talks condescendingly about “the monkey mind”
  • talks condescendingly about the “flesh suit”
  • views self as being separate from the body (and subsequently, the world)
  • talks about emotions as though they are ideas and concepts, rather than real experiences
  • dismisses the validity of emotional experiences in favor of higher awareness
  • believes the mind is all powerful
  • encourages emotional detachment

A spiritual practice that lacks embodied empathy is simply covert narcissism dressed as faux-enlightenment.

Learn how to identify a credible spiritual teacher.

Xo,

Ash

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